by Senator Larry Craig
With each decade that passes, it seems Americans grow more and more accustomed to receiving instant results. Twenty years ago, microwave ovens were a luxury. Today, they are a standard appliance in almost every home. State lotteries have created “instant-win” scratch tickets. Digital cameras allow us to see our pictures immediately and print them in minutes. The internet brings a world of information to our fingertips in just seconds.
Still, with ever-shortening attention spans and decreasing wait times for all kinds of products and services, the average person still engages in a host of activities that are really quite wise and farsighted. We brush our teeth every day in hopes we’ll still have them 60 or 70 years later. Many watch what they eat and exercise in an effort to maintain good health well into senior citizenship. Even with a brand new car, we change the oil every 3,000 miles, because we want the car to last for 100,000 or maybe 200,000 miles.
Unfortunately, when it came to a prudent national energy policy, neither the “have it now” mentality nor our cunning survival instincts took over. It has been far too long since the United States had a national energy policy, and we are now reaping the results, at the gas pumps and on our electricity bills, of our indecision and inaction.
Fortunately, however, that is about to change. Several weeks ago, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee gave strong approval to the energy bill. Crafted with bipartisan input and support, the bill cleared the Committee by a vote of 21-1. Now, as I write, the energy bill is being debated on the Senate floor, and the full Senate will vote on it within a matter of days. It is possible that the bill could reach the President’s desk by the end of July, or early September at the latest.
What does the energy bill mean for Idaho? It means a lot of things. The energy bill authorizes $1.25 billion for a Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) to be built at the Idaho National Laboratory. This reactor will serve as a test bed for advanced reactor technologies and provide co-generation of hydrogen and electricity from a nuclear reactor.
Hydrogen powered cars may be the future of automobiles, but the world still lacks the means to produce hydrogen in the quantities that will be necessary to support such a transition. The NGNP could help us pave the way.
The energy bill also provides a mandate for ethanol producers to distill 8 billion gallons of corn-based and cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol is made from farm residues like straw, cornstalks and husks, and could provide Idaho farmers with a new market for what was, up until now, considered a farm waste product.
Another important part of the energy bill will be the provisions to streamline hydroelectric relicensing. Currently, the relicensing process for hydroelectric dams is lengthy, complicated, and lacks balance. These reforms will bring balance and accountability to the process.
Developing nuclear power and clean coal technologies and boosting ethanol production will be very helpful to diversify America’s energy consumption. But the energy bill also goes a long way toward encouraging better efficiency and conservation. It will reduce peak electricity demand by 50,000 megawatts by the year 2020, and reduce U.S. oil consumption by 1 million barrels of oil per day by 2015. This legislation will also modernize and expand the nation’s electricity grid, to help prevent the devastating, domino-effect blackout that struck the northeastern United States in the summer 2003.
Will the energy bill make an “immediate” dent in gas prices at the pump? It would be irresponsible to suggest that. America’s energy problems can’t be solved overnight, because they did not develop overnight. The challenges we face today came about because of years of energy policy neglect.
However, much like brushing one’s teeth keeps them healthy for our later years, putting a comprehensive national energy policy in place will help get our house in order and get the United States back in the business of producing energy.
I have been privileged to play a part in crafting this energy bill, and I believe we have a product that will be approved by the summer’s end, if not sooner. We have worked long and hard at it, and there is still much to do. However, once the energy bill is signed and put into practice, we’ll all have a big reason to smile and show off those pearly whites.